Say the word “antique” and our minds often jump to something grand and imposing. (Double-door armoires and twelve-seater dining tables are usually our brains’ go-to’s.) But palatially-sized pieces are far from your only options, and if you’re short on space, there’s no reason to rule antiques out. To help make tracking down petite pieces easier, we’re highlighting small-scale designs worth putting on your wishlist (all hail the demilune!), plus, sharing tips for making brown furniture pieces read a little less lare and in charge in tight quarters. So when the going gets tight, don’t fight it! Try these tips for using antique furniture in small spaces, instead. 

small dining room with Empire table and white aluminum chairs
Design by Paul Corrie Interiors/ Photo by Dan Cutrona

Recast Antiques

Small spaces sometimes call for new-fangled, niche pieces. (Think bistro tables, ladder-style bookcases, and drinks tables.) Antique versions aren’t always available, but there’s no rule against reimagining alternative antiques to fulfill your needs. Consider using an antique center table as a two-seater dining table, for instance. Or, try an antique Pembroke table or candle stand as a drinks table. With their upright backs and thin profiles, antique Chippendale sofas can also be used to outfit a modern dining table with banquette seating on one side. For something more rustic, draft an old pine pew bench for the role of a banquette. Need a small coffee table? Try employing two antique stools with rush seats.

Small Art Deco pied a terre with an antique bench and wall console
Design by Eleven Interiors / Photo by Greg Premru

Search for Wall-Mounted Pieces  

If you’re not married to the idea of a textbook antique (you know the type: brown wood, curvy legs, fancy woodwork), your pool widens when it comes to space-saving designs. Bauhaus, Art Deco, and Danish Modern antiques often incorporate spatially conscientious details such as wall mounts or drop leaves. Search for floating shelves designed to hoist books off the floor as well as wall-mounted desks and consoles. Scouting Scandinavian designs from the mid-20th Century will probably yield the best results if you’re doing an online search, with designs by makers like Paul Cadovius and Kai Krisitiansen leading the pack. For something with more color, try designs from maker Pilastro. The Dutch brand created not just floating bookshelves but wall-mounted coat racks that can be used in creative new ways. 

Small apartment dining area with white pedestal table and antique blue bench
Design by Eleven Interiors / Photo by Greg Premru Photography

Pair with Modern Pieces

When you’re working with a small space, what you choose to pair with your antiques is almost as important as what antiques you select. In space-squeezed quarters, a proliferation of dark, heavy furniture can visually close things in. To prevent things from feeling heavy, try partnering your antique furniture with slim modern pieces. While teaming modern furniture with your antiques might feel out of your comfort zone, a few tricks can help you pull off the look. First, look to those modern pieces that designers are forever partnering with antiques such as Knoll pedestal dining tables and Ghost Chairs. Although modern, these pieces take cues from classical designs, making them more style-agnostic than you might think. Another trick? Opt for colorful antiques. A blue or red-painted piece will mix more seamlessly with modern furniture’s vibrant finishes.  

Design by Kristina Phillips Interior Design / Photo by Ryan McDonald

Turn Heirlooms Into Functional Pieces 

Despite living in a small space, sometimes oversized antiques choose you. Whether it be a piano passed down from a relative or a street corner freebie that was simply too good to pass up, occasionally we find ourselves saddled with a more sizable piece than we bargained for. If you can relate, don’t panic. With a little finessing, large antiques can be recast as more functional pieces. For instance, try treating an antique piano more like a console. Outfitting it with a vase, candlesticks, and decorative bowl can tone down its commanding presence. (Topping it with art and outfitting it with a brightly upholstered chair or bench can muffle its monumental qualities even more.) Take a similar approach to a china cabinet. Remove its doors to make it feel more visually lightweight and create an accessible, open bookcase. 

Small brownstone apartment bedroom with vintage secretary desk
Design by J. PATRYCE DESIGN / Photo by Christian Harder

Look for Double-Duty Pieces 

Antiques that can swing double-duty are well suited for small spaces. Secretary desks, for instance, are a smart choice in small bedrooms requiring both storage and workspace. Bottom drawers can be allocated to sweaters and jean storage, while the drop leaf can be unfolded to accommodate a laptop. A secretary with a flat top (rather than an enclosed hutch) can also be used to pedestal a TV, if needed. In a kid’s room, try using an antique school desk as a nightstand. These unique antiques will function beautifully as bedside companions day-to-day, but can be transformed into a workspace whenever needed. A stately antique desk, such as a Federal desk, can also be styled sans chair to function as a buffet in a dining room or a bar in a living room. Keep any decor you place atop it corralled on a tray so, when needed, whisking it away to take a call or pen an email, is a breeze. 

Small, bold indigo dining room with an antique curio cabinet
Design by Eclectic Home New Orleans / Photo by Daymon Gardner

Search for Small Scale Antiques 

Don’t rule out an antique china cabinet just because you’re not living in a luxuriously large space. With a little digging, it’s possible to find small-scale versions of traditionally large antiques like china cabinets, secretary desks, and dining tables. Rather than simply dropping the word “small” into all of your online searches, it can be helpful to do some research on the names of smaller antiques. Curio cabinets, for instance, are similar to china cabinets but often come in small-scale sizes. Drop-leaf tables which feature hinged drop panels on either side, can also be reimagined as small dining tables. You can get even more niche with terms like “dough proofing box.” These small, standing, lidded chests were once used to house rising dough and can now be used as small consoles. 

Small entry with antique demilune
Design by Paul Corrie Interiors / Photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg

Consider a Demilune 

Ah, the demilune. Sweetly named for a half-moon, the demilune is essentially a small-scale console masquerading as a table. A half-circle-shaped top set atop two or four legs makes it easily distinguishable, as does its taller-than-average height. A long history dating back to 18th Century France mean demilunes have since been interpreted through many design lenses. Today it’s easy to find demilunes in Federal styles, Regency styles, Bauhaus styles, and more. Use a demilune in especially narrow areas of your home, such as a hallway or entry. Refrshingly, most demilunes have a depth between 10” and 16,” meaning they can go just about anywhere. They’re also a great pick for tackling odd jobs in the home. Need nearly profile-less nightstands in a tiny bedroom? Try two demilunes. Need a small table to station a laptop while streaming movies? Demilune it. 

Lead image design by Paul Corrie Interiors / Photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg


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October 25, 2023

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